Jury selection starts in Kathy Taft murder trial

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The jury selection process began Monday in the trial of the man accused in the death of state school board member Kathy Taft.

Thirty-two-year-old Jason Williford could face the death penalty if he's convicted.

Williford has pleaded not guilty to charges that he raped and beat 62-year-old Taft in March 2010.

Willford was arrested in April 2010 after police say they found DNA evidence on a cigarette butt linking him to the crime.

His attorneys unsuccessfully pleaded with the judge to delay the trial and toss out the DNA evidence -- arguing police should have obtained a search warrant before picking up the evidence.

Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner ruled against the defense's motion to suppress the evidence. He also denied a series of motions including a motion to suppress State Bureau of Investigation testing and a motion to make the trial non-capital.

Lawyers for the 32-year-old accused killer questioned a Raleigh Police Department officer's decision to put a glove he used to pick up a cigarette butt into the evidence bag with the butt. They argued that it could have caused "contamination" and was "absurd."

They also added that police should have had a search warrant to pick the butt up, but prosecutors have said the parking lot is considered a public place.

Police have said Williford attacked Taft inside a home on Cartier Lane in the late night hours of March 5 or the early morning hours of March 6. She died at WakeMed a few days later.

The former member of the State Board of Education and her sister were housesitting at the Raleigh home while Taft recovered from a surgery.

Her sister found her bloodied body and lab results revealed the state school board member had been sexually assaulted and had a deep cut on the back of her head.

Police said Williford, a Raleigh musician, lived in an apartment around the corner from the home where Taft was staying when she was attacked.

Taft served on the State School Board for 15 years - the longest tenure of any current member. She also ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in 2008. Prior to that, she served on the the Pitt County Board of Education.

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